How Do MPNs Develop?

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Myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) are blood diseases involved in the rapid production of cells, usually an indicator the body is responding to something, according to Dr. Ruben Mesa. Dr. Mesa, a principal investigator in more than 45 MPN clinical trials, expands our understanding of MPNs and how they develop. Learn more about the meaning behind MPNs and why this “bone marrow disease” is classified as a cancer.

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Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of MD Anderson Cancer Center, its medical staff or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

All of our blood is typically made in our bone marrow, and fundamentally we're talking about diseases here where we're making too many blood cells, whether it's platelets, whether it's red cells, whether it's white blood cells, and sometimes whether the increase is in the bone marrow or in the peripheral bloodstream making too many cells.  

Now, in the body, when we're making too many cells it's never by accident.  The body controls things to a tremendous degree, whether it's the salts in our blood or the number of cells we have in our blood.  So everything is really tightly controlled.  If we're making too many cells from the blood, it's either the body doing that as a reaction to help for some need, such as living at high altitude the body makes more red blood cells to carry more oxygen.  Or if you have an infection, the body makes more white blood cells.  Or if you've had a trauma sometimes we make more platelets, or if we've had a burn or iron deficiency or other causes.  So there's a whole group of reasons that are, let's say, what we call reactive.  The body is reacting to something.  

The myeloproliferative neoplasms are the bone marrow making too many cells without a good reason, without reacting to something.  So they fundamentally are a bone marrow disease.  Now, the term "myelo" means bone, "proliferative" means making too many.  So like most of these medical terms, they sound pretty highfalutin, but they really are just describing what's going on.  The bone marrow is making too many.  

Now, the second word is neoplasms.  Now, "neoplasms" technically means a cancer.  Now, that is a very delicate issue with the MPNs, but let me explain what that really means.  Using the word "cancer" does not make a disease worse.  It just describes truly what is the cause of making too many cells.  Now, we use the term "cancer" primarily outside of the blood, and we use that whether we talk about skin cancers that one can shave off or remove with some liquid nitrogen all the way to cancers that we clearly know can be catastrophic, such as pancreatic or brain cancers, breast, colon, prostate. 

And the blood is a similar issue, that when we're making too many cells from the bone marrow they technically are a type of a cancer.  Now, that doesn't necessarily make the disease any worse.  It just is an acknowledgment that it's not making these cells by accident, and it also is one of the reasons we see why in some people the disease can change to much more aggressive stages of the disease.  So that is truly where those two words have come from, myeloproliferative and neoplasms.  

Please remember the opinions expressed on Patient Power are not necessarily the views of MD Anderson Cancer Center, its medical staff or Patient Power. Our discussions are not a substitute for seeking medical advice or care from your own doctor. That’s how you’ll get care that’s most appropriate for you.

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Page last updated on April 29, 2014